Skip to main content

Intelligence Bill Includes 700 MHz Resolution

Congress has approved sweeping intelligence-reform legislation, including a nonbonding resolution that calls for Congress to address the DTV transition next year to clear the 700 MHz spectrum for commercial providers and public safety next year.

Earlier this year, the Senate established a firm date for broadcasters to clear 24 MHz of bandwidth in the 700 MHz band earmarked for public-safety uses such as channels for interoperable communications between entities.

There are “deficiencies” with the plan, because it would dislocate as many as 75 broadcast stations that “serve a critical public-safety function by broadcasting weather, traffic, disaster, and other safety alerts,” the legislation states.

“Such disparate treatment of broadcasters would be unfair to the broadcasters and their respective viewers,” the legislation goes on to state. “Requiring the return of all analog broadcast spectrum by a date certain would have the benefit of addressing the digital television transition in a comprehensive fashion that treats all broadcasters equally, while free spectrum for advanced commercial services.”

As most readers of DigitalTV know, broadcasters are currently required to return analog spectrum in the 700 MHz band on Dec. 31, 2006, if 85% of all households in their market have digital TV sets.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has supported an agency plan to include cable and satellite subscribers in the calculation to meet the 85% threshold, but many have questioned whether the proposal would meet the intent of Congress. In a subtle change, the House-approved legislation indicates it does.
Broadcasters must vacate their analog spectrum by “the date on which more than 85 percent of the television households in the market of such broadcaster can view digital broadcast television channels using a digital television, a digital-to-analog converter box, cable service, or satellite service.”

A non-binding portion of the legislation states that Congress “must act” on comprehensive legislation to address the digital-television transition during 2005. However, there are no rules for enforcement.